When I was in middle school my brother and his friend, Tommy, had this idea to build themselves a haunted yard for Halloween. They collected and dried oodles of bamboo to construct a formidable wall to cover a wimpy chain link fence and used strategic landscaping and a white Christmas light lined plywood tunnel to funnel their victims, I mean, trick or treaters, along the side of the house. At the end of the narrow side yard was a detached garage, in front of which was a hefty tree stump that held a cauldron of candy. Tommy stood in a floor length cloak and creepy old man mask with a walking staff perfectly still right behind the cauldron. You were too worried about him to pay attention to the stuffed body they had rigged to fall from the tree as you got close to the candy. One year they simply let a noose hang empty over the bowl, swaying ominously in the breeze and let your imagination fill in the rest.
The front yard was riddled with white crosses made of scrap wood and quickly nailed together. Donald drove his car up into the ditch in the yard and left the car doors open, hazards flashing. Also flashing were enough strobe lights to stock a Disco and somewhere I believe I recall a fog machine. Creepy music played and one year there was the not-so-smart idea of making a white body outline in the street with something more permanent than chalk. If memory serves it looked like a crime scene on the driveway weeks into November.
When I was old enough to handle the creep factor (debatable, I still can't handle creep factor) my parents would drive me to trick or treat after I'd made my usual rounds in our neighborhood. Donald and Tommy I think delighted in my arrival. I squealed spectacularly and the fact that I was blood related meant all bets were off when it came to going for the Big Scream. One year we packed my youth group up in the church van to visit the house and Tommy ended up chasing me squealing in panic down the entire street, into and through the van.
Around high school I was too old to go door to door, or more interested in playing with the big boys. I got the invitation to join Donald and Tommy in their yard slinking and couldn't have been more excited. I dressed in head-to-toe black,d borrowed a great skull mask and slinked my heart out. My memories of being chased through this very yard by my ghoulish sibling came flooding back to me at the sight of a 4-year-old Superman peeking hesitantly through the tunnel I sat on the other side of like a spider waiting for prey. He was too young for our antics, though and so I turned my glowing skull face and held my breath, hoping desperately to blend enough with the shadows that he wouldn't notice me. Blending failed! After seeing me sitting there in arms reach he decided the candy was SO not worth the trip through the tunnel. I ended up taking my mask off and reaching out a hand to guide him the rest of the way down the lane to get his treat. Tommy seemed to understand the unbridled fear in this poor super hero and maintained his statue-stance instead of going for the scream factor.
Years later I own a house and am determined to build the best haunted yard in the neighborhood. It has been slow going, this year marks our fourth Halloween and our second without bells and whistles. Two years ago we didn't even hand out candy, Clif instead having the unpleasant task of tending to me and my horrific bout of swine flu. Last year we were on, though, and in the great tradition of yard slinking I donned all black and a spectacularly creepy skeletal mask and sat amongst our tombstones in a smothering fog from our smoke machine. I would turn my head ever so slowly to watch the kids come up our driveway, only half of which even noticed my existence, much less that they were being watched. They would greet Clif sitting on a cooler by the front door in my full-hooded Half Moon cloak with black mask and red glowing eyes warning the kiddies of dangers around the corner. By the time they came off the porch I'd be crouching around our hedge bush, forcing them to walk right past me, allowing me to give chase.
One little observant girl spotted me half way up our drive and dug her heels into the black top. Even her fathers encouraging nudges couldn't move Snow White and she backpedaled herself right back to the street, foregoing candy at our house. The boys she was with were oblivious to our encounter and moved on to the next house without a second thought. I felt bad for Snow White, she reminded me of Superman from years ago. I got a good handful of candy out of our bowl and walked across the street to stand next to Snow White's mother while she waited for the kids to finish at the door. I asked if I could give Snow her candy since she was obviously not up for working through her fear (a feeling I know oh so well) and mom obliged. When Snow turned around and saw me standing there her dad REALLY had to give her a hand or she would not have budged from where she froze half way across the yard. Still in my mask I made a show of covering my skeletal face and turning away, stretching my candy-filled hand out to her. I wasn't looking so I'm not sure if she took the offering or her father took it on her behalf but as I strolled silently back to our house I couldn't stop grinning ear to ear at what I hoped would become as great of a story for her as it would be for me.
My philosophy is if you build it they will come. Much like in my youth I am convinced that if we build our yard a little every year eventually the kids will start talking and we'll be the coolest house around at Halloween. Sadly this year our decorations have been buried in the farthest corner of our storage room behind the meat of our bathroom renovation project. On top of that Clif is taking classes on Mondays, including tonight, so he won't even be home to enjoy tormenting the neighborhood kids. I'll spend my evening with Rocky Horror and The Great Pumpkin, day dreaming of ways to make up lost ground next year.